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An Interview with Priscilla Mizell upon receiving an offer of representation.


Priscilla Mizell (Priscilla on QT) has signed with agent Kristin Miller-Vincent of D4EO Literary Agency.

Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you’ve found representation? What inspired you to write it?
I actually found representation for a different book than the one I queried. When I sent Kristin a story titled THANK YOU, NINJA, she replied that she did not feel the project was quite right for a breakout picture book. However, she loved my art, and asked if I had manuscripts to match two other illustrations in my portfolio. We exchanged a few e-mails and Kristin spotted a project that she thought would be a better fit for a debut.

The new project was born from an Illustration Friday prompt for the word, “Launch.” I sketched and collaged a series of illustrations depicting a penguin admiring, soaring to, and sleeping on the moon. I am still developing the story, but it will star this character and feature an attempted launch to the moon.

How long have you been writing?
Since I was a little girl.
How long have you been working on this book?
The book I queried took four months to get from idea to dummy. I began work on the penguin book in mid-November when Kristin sent that first e-mail.
Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
I never felt like giving up, but there were many times that I felt defeated. Happily, I am blessed with an encouraging husband, a wonderful family, artistic friends, and a supportive online critique group. They encouraged me to pursue my dream and challenged me to develop my craft.
Is this your first book?
I have not published anything, but I have written eight other picture book manuscripts.
Do you have any formal writing training?
Yes. I earned a BA in English from Kansas Wesleyan University and an MA in Children’s Literature from Kansas State University. Kansas State is where I fell head over claws for the picture book genre.
Do you follow a writing "routine" or schedule?
I typically do most of my creative work on weekends or “art nights” where my husband or my best friend and I devote an evening to projects. I did lay out a formal writing/sketching schedule when I was in the final stretch of preparing THANK YOU, NINJA for submission.
How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
The penguin story has already changed three times. I’m sure many more edits and rewrites are in my future.
Did you have beta readers for your book?
I did and I do! I have an online critique group made up of a lovely bunch of gals who I met in an SCBWI forum. We exchange manuscripts on a monthly basis. My husband is a writer, too, so he provides feedback and helps me brainstorm ideas. Additionally, my best friend reads my stories and my creative brothers-in-law offer input on my illustrations.
Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
I plan the spreads in a thumbnail template to ensure that the story fits within the parameters of a picture book and the pacing works well. In the past, I wrote out the text before I began the sketches. This time I’m following Kristin’s advice and beginning with the art instead.
How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
I queried THANK YOU, NINJA from September through December of 2011. I have been querying other picture book projects since the spring of 2009, although this was my first time querying as a writer/illustrator.
About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
I only queried agents who represent picture books.
Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
For the most part. Casey McCormick’s Literary Rambles blog was almost always my first stop. Then I would read any online interviews I could find and look to see if the agent was on twitter. I loved when agents tweeted because I could get a better feel for their personality and tastes. Many (including Kristin) will even share what they want to see in a query.
What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Read lots and lots of picture books, and think about why they work. Whether you go back to school, take a class, or study on your own, it’s important to examine your genre from a critical and creative standpoint.

Find a critique group that will both challenge and support you. My craft has greatly improved since I joined mine in January 2011.

Become a member of SCBWI. If you’re also an illustrator, participate in the Illustration Friday challenges.

Learn as much as you can about the publishing industry. I particularly recommend reading, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Jennifer Represents, and Editorial Anonymous. The archives take awhile to go through but they are absolutely worth your time.

Attend and participate in WriteOnCon. When a Ninja Agent approved my concept and query, it gave me the motivation I needed to finish the dummy and the courage to submit again.

Make sure your query has some personality. My previous queries were accurate enough but didn’t reveal the “voice” of the tale. Adding the voice made all the difference in increasing my request rates.

Take your time when researching and querying agents. As I wrote before, the Literary Rambles blog is a great place to start.

Of course, QueryTracker is excellent for keeping track of your submissions. And the stats and community can help you keep from losing your mind when you’re waiting.

Finally, be realistic with your goals and expectations. Believe that you are good enough. But don’t use that as an excuse to stop growing.

Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Certainly! Here it is:

Dear Ms. Miller:

Ridley’s best friend is Ninja, and boy is he useful. Forget your lunch? Zoom! Bag in hand. Bullies afoot? Poof! Problem solved. Time for bed? Wash, brush, pajamas! Without a doubt, Ninja is a handy friend to have around. But sometimes even ninjas need a bit of help

THANK YOU, NINJA! is a picture book with a friendship hook that will karate chop your funny bone. You can find the full manuscript of 80 words pasted below as well as a link to my illustration portfolio. A dummy is available on request.

I hold a Master of Arts degree in Children’s Literature from Kansas State University where I specialized in the critical and creative study of picture books. By day, I am a product manager for an educational publishing company. By night, I am a cut paper warrior, in endless pursuit of materials for my next collage. I am also a member of SCBWI.

I am writing to you because of the reputation of your agency and your interest in character-driven picture books from author-illustrators. I have also enjoyed the glimpse into your personality on Twitter. Please note that this is a multiple submission.

Thank you for your time and consideration!


Priscilla Mizell

[Contact Information]

Illustration Portfolio:

[Picture Book Text]